Epeolatry Book Review: Face by Joma West

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Title: Face
Author: Joma West
Publisher: tordotcom
Genre: Dystopian Sci-Fi
Release Date: 2nd August, 2022

Synopsis: In Joma West’s Face, Margaret Atwood meets Kazuo Ishiguro in this sci-fi domestic drama that reimagines race and class in a genetically engineered society fed by performative fame.

How much is your Face worth?

Schuyler and Madeleine Burroughs have the perfect Face—rich and powerful enough to assure their dominance in society.

But in Schuyler and Maddie’s household, cracks are beginning to appear. Schuyler is bored and taking risks. Maddie is becoming brittle, her happiness ever more fleeting. And their menial is fighting the most bizarre compulsions.

In Face, skin color is an aesthetic choice designed by professionals, consent is a pre-checked box on the path to social acceptance, and your online profile isn’t just the most important thing—it’s the only thing.

Many sci-fi stories have explored the concept of social media taking over and dictating our worth, for example, Black Mirror’s episode, “Nosedive”—few so as aggressively as Joma West’s debut novel, Face. The world of Face is a cold, isolated place where emotions are lies, intimacy is non-existent, families are an aesthetic choice, and status is everything. 

Set sometime in the future, everyone has software built into their bodies and going online is as simple as closing one’s eyes. The world is divided in two: the online world or “In”, and what we would think of as the “real world” called the “Out”. Hierarchy is established through popularity on the “In” by maintaining a variety of Faces. Status dictates everything. 

This isn’t fully spelled out in the novel. Exposition remains light while the concept of online personas stays clear. What’s uncertain is how the characters’ behaviour in the “Out” affects things, or how multiple unconnected personas benefit them. When characters are offline, status still dominates their every interaction. They will engage in “faceplay” even in private with their families and express anxiety about power imbalances, but little to none of that seems to truly impact anyone’s hierarchy unless published online. While I appreciate the need to avoid excessive exposition dumps, I found myself hungering for them as the story left me with unsatisfied questions by the end of the book.

The author doesn’t explore a few plot threads and characters as thoroughly as I would like. For instance, there are two main classes of people: the “regulars”, and the “menials”. Menials are a slave class who are born, bred, and trained to serve the higher status people. A couple of the characters start to question and explore the concept of the Menials as human beings, and while I didn’t expect a revolution, nothing much seems to come of it.

Face excels in its structure. The plot focuses mainly on one family, plus a few other characters. Since it is so important that the characters maintain their status even in private, they are experts at masking their true feelings. The same scenes are presented from multiple points of view. It is a bold choice that leads to repetition in parts, but it also offers insights into characters and situations that a single POV can’t.

The writing is engaging, the concept is fascinating, and I enjoyed watching the characters navigate this strange world. While there are a few things missing to make this one of my favourites, I would definitely read more by this author.

/5

Available from Amazon and Bookshop.

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